‘It’s taking far too long for CBC to hand out business grants in Biggleswade’

Central Bedfordshire Independent councillors have hit out at CBC, claiming that it has taken too long to hand out grants to businesses struggling due to the coronavirus and that there has been poor communication.

By Jo Gravett
Monday, 4th May 2020, 7:14 pm

Over the past few weeks, businesses have been applying for either the Small Business Grant Fund or the Retail Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund, with the scheme established by the government and delivered via local authorities.

Companies can be given grants of £10,000 or £25,000 to help them during the crisis.

However, on Monday, April 27, Cllr Adam Zerny informed the Chronicle that he had spoken to seven pubs in Potton, Wrestlingworth, Sutton, Dunton and Tempsford and claimed that only two had been paid the grant, and one of those had been forced to wait three weeks for it.

Biggleswade Town Centre

He alleged: “All told the same stories about forms being lost by CBC, new forms being created, lack of communication from the council, and having to chase repeatedly and ask question after question. One publican who manages a popular Potton pub told me CBC had moaned the pub hadn’t given a bank account name despite the form not having asked for it!”

Cllr Dr Hayley Whitaker claimed: “One of my major concerns is that CBC has been so much slower to get things out. I wish they had set up a tracking system so people could see where they are in the system. I have had businesses contacting me saying ‘please can you help?’”

Cllr Whitaker claimed that last week a council director refused to look into queries from councillors who were contacting him on behalf of residents, because it would slow down the application process. Although she said this week they are now being looked into.

Cllr Whitaker also told the newspaper that there was no direct hotline for businesses to call about the issue and worried owners were having to guess which department.

But Jonathan Medlock, of Surfin’ Cafe, said: “The application was largely very straightforward, but was not clear on how the process would work for businesses with more than one site and applicable business rates.”

Surfin’ Cafe now has a grant for its Ampthill site and one for its Biggleswade site.

A spokeswoman from Buttons Haberdashery claimed: “There was no correspondence. Just a letter in the post to say what had happened would have been helpful. We never had any emails or post.”

Central Bedfordshire Council has said supporting local businesses during the pandemic is an important responsibility for it to manage.

A spokesman said: “It’s been a big task to administer the business rate relief scheme and the new business support grants.

“The processing and validating of these applications is complex and takes time to complete thoroughly. This is really important as we are encountering cases of potential fraud and many omissions, and we need to take a responsible approach to handing out public money.

“It’s vital the right grants get to the right people. Businesses can help themselves, and us, by ensuring that any application is completed accurately with all the required details.

“We have beefed up the team dealing with this and they are working seven days a week to process applications.

“For grant applications where there are no queries, we aim to process the application within two weeks, if a case is more complicated or we need more information then those applications will take longer.

“Around one in 10 applications contain inaccurate or incomplete information. The team has rejected 220 and weeded out a further 100 or so duplicates. Our strict due diligence procedures have averted a potential loss to the council of up to £3.8m.”

CBC informed the newspaper that as of April 29, it had contacted all 940 businesses eligible for emergency rate relief with amended bills, and approved business support grants of up to £25,000 to 1,962 firms – two thirds of those eligible who have applied so far.

This means businesses from corner shops to multi-nationals have so far benefitted from £50million of support.

Recently the eligibility criteria was extended by the government which means a further 200 businesses, including some charities and voluntary organisations can now apply for the grants at www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/info/26/public_health/737/coronavirus_-_covid-19/7.

Businesses must have been on the business rates register on March 11, 2020.